Many of our clients are considering virtualizing all or part of their enterprise content management (“ECM”) infrastructure to drive cost efficiency, improve operational flexibility and drive improved service levels. As such, Capgemini has had the opportunity to review and analyze the business case to support virtualization along with our clients, and have found that there is a particularly compelling set of justifications to virtualize even in advance of typical hardware refresh cycles.
In addition, the market has matured to the point where customers can consider not only virtualization within their own data center, but also moving to a true “Infrastructure as a Service” model, leveraging rapidly maturing IaaS offerings such as Microsoft (Azure) or Amazon (EC2 Compute Instances and S3 Storage) in the cloud.

The case for virtualizing enterprise content management systems is particularly compelling due to the large volume of content that most organizations are storing today, and the large infrastructure requirements imposed to provide reasonable service levels to business stakeholders. This has created a convergence of three things observed by Global organizations:

  1. Enterprise content management is becoming extremely pervasive, particularly with the growth of Microsoft SharePoint and the focus on enterprise social collaboration.
  2. The storage requirements for content files are large and growing as content files continue to increase in size and the number of files stored continues to grow exponentially.
  3. As organizations continue to focus on driving Global growth, a centralized model for ECM infrastructure is no longer adequate to provide appropriate service levels to business stakeholders.

The convergence of these three things has resulted in exponential growth in storage and infrastructure requirements for most organizations to support global ECM deployments. And that has driven the business case to identify and deploy more cost effective solutions to support these infrastructure and storage needs.

Consider the case of a global Energy Company that Capgemini recently completed an infrastructure study for. The Company had a centralized deployment of ECM, with SharePoint for Collaboration and EMC Documentum for “controlled documents” and retention policy management. Business stakeholders were observing slow response times from Global locations, and inadequate service levels were being provided. This drove a need for a decentralized deployment model to support appropriate service levels for business stakeholders needing to interact with business documents. In addition, the Company was in the process of implementing a Global solution for retention policy management, which further drove the need to deploy ECM infrastructure to “edge” locations. Further, the Company saw the need to add high availability and disaster recovery to support the ECM infrastructure and reduce risk of lost data.

The centralized “physical” deployment of EMC Documentum at the Company was comprised of 20 physical servers, split logically between development, test, and production systems. This deployment did not support SLAs for disaster recovery or high availability. Further, since the deployment was centralized in North America, performance levels at edge locations globally was very poor. The physical infrastructure was due to be refreshed in a normal cycle in early 2013.

Capgemini proposed a virtualized model to replace the legacy physical environment. The virtualized model had a number of advantages unrelated to cost:

  1. Added full disaster recovery and high availability capabilities, decreasing business risk and increase service levels.
  2. Provided for rapid deployment of “edge” location infrastructure to support enhanced performance for centralized pockets of global users.
  3. Allowed the Company to easily deploy and un-deploy virtualized environments to support large-scale content migration efforts without affecting the performance of the production system.

With those business benefits in mind, the Company also realized significant cost savings when compared to the cost of refreshing the physical infrastructure that they were facing in 2013. Capgemini modeled this cost savings to be nearly 40% in hard dollar savings. And, operational costs going forward will also be far less, especially when considering that the 20 physical servers in the current physical model were reduced to 4 physical servers in the virtualized model, notwithstanding the three significant business benefits outlined above.

Having looked at this on behalf of a number of different clients, it is not a question of “if” virtualization is a good idea, it is a question of “when” a Company decides to adopt this model.